Built in 2001, Viking Spirit is one of 13 deluxe river ships in the Viking River Cruises fleet. With a capacity of 150 passengers, its all-inclusive cruise program provides an intimate cruise experience in a casual onboard atmosphere.
All of the Viking River ships are virtually identical, with just minor differences among them. Expect an experience that is very different from a traditional big-ship cruise, where the emphasis is often as much on the ship as a floating resort as it is on the ports of call. Viking Spirit is more like a casual, but comfortable three-star hotel that floats down the river. We ate and slept onboard, but really our main focus was our days in ports, which were chock full of sightseeing adventures, and where we learned about the local history and architecture.
Virtually all shore excursions are included and each day starts with a historical walking tour with local guides who are knowledgeable and quite interesting, who provide an overview and orientation in each city and recommended several alternatives for how you might spend free time. This is a very active cruise with a great deal of walking up and down hills, often on uneven cobblestone and is really for the traveler who wants a port-intensive sightseeing experience, rather than a relaxing, lay-on-the-beach or sit-by-the-pool vacation.
The ship itself is quite small, but laid out in a manner that works well for this type of cruise, fostering an opportunity to meet and get to know many of your fellow passengers. You won't find nightclubs, casinos, spas or coffee bars onboard, and evening entertainment is limited. But, I have to say, it really didn't matter as our days were so full with sightseeing in each port that at night, our multi-course dinner experience was just about all the entertainment we could handle.
Our particular cruise sailed down the Danube in December (though the ship also offers spring, summer and fall European river sailings), with the added bonus of visiting Christmas markets in most of the ports, which you can read about in Virtual Cruise: Christmas Markets.
The ship's captain and officers are German and Austrian; most of the crew members come from Eastern Europe and service was quite good. English is the official onboard language, and all crew speak fluent English as do the local tour folks.
The attractive and intimate dining room seats 150, primarily in tables of four and six; there are two that seat eight. We loved the completely open seating, which encourages mingling among the guests and makes it easy to meet and get to know several passengers on the cruise. Like the other public rooms, it is furnished in a comfortable and casual Scandinavian style in soft blue, warm rust and beige tones and has large picture windows. Breakfast consists of a basic American buffet and you can also order omelettes, pancakes and french toast from your server. However, the buffet was often depleted well before the end of breakfast time and many passengers weren't aware that they could order something made to order. The fruit selection could also be improved, as sometimes it was canned, and other times over- or under-ripe. An early-bird breakfast of coffee, tea, fruit juice and small pastries is also available at 6 a.m. each morning.
The lunch buffet featured salads and some small sandwiches plus a couple of hot entree options such as pasta. All of the food is brought onboard in either Germany or Austria, which also influenced the type of deli meats served at breakfast and lunch.
Dinner was a fixed menu, with one or two entree and appetizer choices. The food had a continental European flavor to it with German and Austrian specialties included. Each evening had a theme such as Advent dinner which was very much like the traditional turkey and cranberry sauce Thanksgiving dinner we enjoy at home; the German dinner featured duck and pike fish, and the Austrian dinner featured Weiner Snitzel. We had the option of choosing prime rib or chicken as an alternative entree every night, however, the medium-rare prime rib I ordered was more like a well-done pan-fried rib steak rather than the thick juicy slice of roasted prime rib I was expecting. Overall, the food was good, but could have been better and we were a bit disappointed, expecting a slightly higher quality and consistency.
Tea is also served each afternoon, which consisted of small cakes and Lipton tea. Coffee, tea, iced tea and water are also available outside the lounge all day and night. There is no room service.
The public rooms consist primarily of one comfortable observation lounge with a small full-service bar surrounded by floor-to-ceiling picture windows, which is used for informal socializing, sightseeing while cruising, afternoon tea, daily briefings, cocktails, entertainment and virtually all other activities onboard. There's also a tiny game room/library with a couple of dozen books that look like they were left behind by former passengers, a dining room and a small, but comfortable reading room. There is neither an Internet cafe or in-cabin (or wireless) capability.
The decor throughout the ship is a comfortable Scandinavian design in soft blues, rusts and beiges, which suits the casual atmosphere onboard.
The ship's 63 deluxe cabins were a comfortable-enough 154 square ft., and divided into four categories (A-D), with category A cabins located on the upper deck, category B cabins located mid-ship on the middle deck; all have large picture windows. Categories C and D cabins are identical in size to A and B, and are located in the forward section of the middle deck, under the observation lounge, which might be a bit noisy if you retire early or like to sleep in (plus their windows are smaller and they don't open). There are also 12 standard cabins (category E) on the lower deck, which are quite a bit smaller at 120 square ft. These also have a Pullman bed, much smaller windows and are often below land because of the height of the canal. If your budget permits, I would opt for a category A or B cabin.
There's surprisingly ample storage space in the deluxe cabins, along with satellite TV, telephone, hairdryer, in-room safe and individual climate control. The bathroom has a full-size sink, standup European-style shower and ample storage in the toiletries cabinet. The beds can be made up as either a queen or two twins (except for category E) and are covered with German duvet style bedding. There's also a nice desk area, but no seating area. The ship's electricity is 220 voltage with the round outlets commonly found in continental Europe, however, there is a razor outlet in the bathroom which can be used with 115 voltage personal appliances.
The industry standard tip of $10 per person, per day is suggested, which can be placed in an envelope and given to the receptionist at the end of your cruise. Tips are pooled and will be distributed equally among all of the shipboard staff. If there is someone you would like to give an additional tip to, you should do that in person. It is also suggested that one tip local shore excursion guides about one Euro. Tips may be placed on your charge card when settling your account at the end of your cruise, however, keep in mind if you agree to the Viking standard tip, 70 euros will be added rather than 70 dollars.
|Fitness and Recreation|
There are no fitness facilities onboard. However, there are opportunities to jog or walk along the river or canal towpaths when in port, plus several of the shore excursions include walking tours.
There are no children's programs onboard and this ship is not recommended for children.
On our Christmas markets cruise, passengers were primarily active couples in their 50's, 60's and early 70's -- retired, well-traveled, well-educated professionals. There were also several pairs of women traveling together, including mothers and daughters and even a few grandmothers along with their mothers and daughters, who were drawn to the shopping aspect of this cruise. The vast majority of passengers onboard were American, with a few Australians, Brits and Canadians in the mix.
Dress on this cruise is for the most part casual, and though the Captain' Dinner and farewell dinner are a bit dressier, they are by no means formal. Most evenings on our Christmas markets cruise, slacks and sweaters were the norm. During the day you will want very comfortable and sturdy walking shoes, as you will be walking quite a bit on uneven cobblestone surfaces. If you're cruising during the Christmas holiday season, you'll also want a very warm jacket or coat, gloves and a hat and scarf as it can get quite cold and most of the walking tours and Christmas markets are outdoors.
Most of the entertainment revolves around the daily walking and coach tours of cities, and includes tours of abbeys, castles, churches, museums and other sites of historical and cultural interest. Other activities may include wine tastings and concerts by local musicians and occasional demonstrations or performances by local artisans. Well-informed, articulate guides greatly enhance the overall river cruise experience by providing a wealth of information on each port.
Viking River Cruises sends each passenger a guidebook covering the itinerary prior to the cruise, and provides a daily briefing and a sightseeing map along with a local guide who conducts a walking or sightseeing tour in each port.
Onboard entertainment is limited as the Viking Spirit has no stage shows, nightclubs or casino. However, every night after dinner there is some form of entertainment including concerts by local musicians or entertainment provided by the crew. Passengers also entertain themselves by reading and playing cards and other board games such as backgammon or Scrabble in the observation lounge or library (which also has a good selection of board games). Two movies are shown daily at 4 and 9 p.m. on one of the cabin's TV channels; often these movies coincide with the places being visited, for example, "Judgment At Nuremburg" with Spencer Tracy was showing while we were in Nuremburg.
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